Seoul Trip Oct 2019 – Changdeokgung Palace

22nd Oct 2019 (6th Day in Seoul)


We searched for what seemed like a cafe on Google Map which offered a bruch menu, because Constant Companion RR wanted some brunch. Unfortunately, the eatery was not what we expected; it turned out to be more of a bakery with a cafe addon. From the rather limited menu, Constant Companion RR chose a salad with an additional croissant while I picked a couple of items from the bakery.

They were okay, I guess, but deep down I felt as though we have “wasted a meal”. However, we had a palace to visit so at least now that we got eating out of the way, we could carry on with the rest of our day.

Hanbok Rental

I knew Constant Companion RR wanted to wear a traditional Korean hanbok and was kind of bumped because she did not get to do it the day before, so I brought her to a hanbok rental shop which we found online with decent reviews.

Hanbok rental charges.

For the next 20 minutes or so, I waited for her to decide on a hanbok of her choice and get all dressed up, assisted by the shop attendant. Business was good for the shop, there were a lot of people, mostly young ladies, coming in and out, either to rent or return their rented attire. It was quite interesting to watch.

From Princess to Palace Maid

Constant Companion RR first came out with this outfit which looked like something a royalty would wear back in the days. The attire spotted intricate embroidered designs of flowers and a large fierce dragon right in the middle. Somehow, I think it was because how “cone shape” the outfit made her look, she opted for something else.

Something a lot less simple and a lot less regal. In fact, if the  first outfit made her look like a princess, the second one kind of made her look like a palace maid. However, this second choice was a lot sleeker, because it included some kind of sash to be worn in the middle of the torso which really kept the waist bind up and looking slim. I guess it makes working on your manual palace duties more convenient. 

Jokes aside though, I thought Constant Companion RR looked rather good in her hanbok. I think it has something to do with the fact that she has a kind of “ancient beauty” look (PS: I am NOT saying she looks old) while having a fair skin and slim body shape definitely helped in her case.

It was around 1345 hrs when we left the rental shop and ready to explore Changdeokgung. We had about 4 hours before we have to return her outfit back to the shop.

Young lady wearing traditional Korean hanbok walking down modern day Seoul, Korea.
Hanbok wearing Constant Companion RR walking down the street towards Changdeokgung Palace

It was an interesting experience. I do not think Constant Companion RR was feeling self conscious about walking down the street in her hanbok since there were so many people doing the same thing and, to be honest, she pulled off the look quite naturally too. On my part, as an observer, there was this simple enjoyment to be had just walking down the street, beside a hanbok-wearing Constant Companion RR.

Changdeokgung Palace

About a 15 minutes walk from the hanbok rental shop, we arrived at the front gate of Changdeokgung Palace. We went to the ticketing booth right next to the gate and bought our admission tickets after a short wait in the queue.

We were about to enter the palace compound with our tickets when the man at the gate, looked at Constant Companion RR in her hanbok, pointed at her and informed us that she did not need to a ticket since she was wearing a hanbok. He suggested that I head back to the booth and get a refund. I took a glance at the ever-growing queue and decided that it was not worth it. We thanked the man and stepped through the gate and into the compound of Changdeokgung Palace.

Just like Gyeongbokgung Palace we went to the day before, there was not much information one can get about the palace. Everybody was pretty much just into taking pictures of themselves in the area, with or without, hanbok. For visitors interested in learning more about the history of the palace, they would do well exploring the place with a guide.

Constant Companion RR and I had no guide; we were there to take pictures. With my trusty Fujifilm X100F in my hands and its strap, over my neck, Constant Companion RR and I spent the next 3 hours indulging in photography, infront and behind the camera lens respectively.

The Palace Compound

It was another lovely day in Seoul; clear blue sky, with wispy white clouds. The temperature maintained at a cool and comfortable level. Between composing shots and taking shots of Constant Companion RR, I had my camera focused on the historical buildings and other visitors.

Past the main throne room, we wandered through the Palace with no set route and without a clue where exactly were we at any given point. Since there were many photography enthusiasts, we tried our best to avoid getting caught in their shots. While the occasional, accidental “photo bomb” is not such a big deal in this age of digital photography, but most of the time, it is about that irreplaceable capture of that particular moment in time.

I have personally “lost” many shots due to such accidental “photo bombing”, especially when photographing Constant Companion RR. Her facial expression, her pose, the entire framing and the lighting could be perfect in one shot but somehow ruined by a wandering stranger in the background. Subsequent re-taking of the same shot with the same elements could never quite match the “feel” of the first again.

Between the two palaces Constant Companion RR and I visited, my preference would go to Changdeokgung Palace. One, it was a little less crowded in Changdeokgung Palace, Constant Companion RR and I would often find ourselves having an entire courtyard to ourselves and it was fantastic to have all the space and time to take pictures without anybody around us.

The Adventure of RR, the Sneaky Palace Maid

I have taken many pictures of Constant Companion RR that afternoon. Some turned out great, some did not. The shots which were less than satisfactory were mostly due to how unnatural and stiff she looked when she posed for the camera. After taking countless photographs of Constant Companion RR, I noticed she has these 2 strange habits while posing for photos.

  1. Sometimes, for whatever reason, she like to pose as a mannequin. She would angle her arms, slightly bent, wrists straightened with her arms. Her face would be titled slightly downwards at an odd angle. Then her eyes would stare, deadpan, straight at whichever direction she was facing which would complete her Mannequin pose.
  2. Say for example she is wearing a nice, beautiful expression on her face, if I take a bit too much time to adjust my settings on the camera, with my lens focusing on her, she would break her expression and look into my camera and grin. This always drastically change the mood of my shot from a natural, artsy, candid shot of an attractive woman to a birthday party photo of a mischievous, impish girl. This “phenomenon” happens way too often.

That afternoon, we had a blast trying to capture how life was in the palace back in the days. Constant Companion RR came up with a story in her head and took on the role of the gossipy Palace Maid character.

With the story and character all set up, I let my pictures do the talking. I try to capture “movement” as the Palace Maid traverse through the Palace; climbing up stairs and walking past or towards something. It was as though she always have somewhere to be, but in fact, the character is stuck within the compound of the palace.

When she was not moving from places to place, I had Constant Companion RR behaved in a sneaky manner, peeking into windows or spying through the gap of doorways. If there is one thing I have learn from watching all the drama about palaces, it is that palace maids are always gossiping with one another, forming their own little cliques and alliance. Knowing critical, forbidden information is as good as having a weapon in hand.

Lastly, I try to keep RR, the Palace Maid isolated as much as possible. While being physically alone goes hand-in-hand with, well, being sneaky, another reason for the isolation is for the immersion for the setting. Fellow visitors posing for the camera is not exactly ancient Korea. I also try not to frame anything modern (like security cameras and signboards) within my pictures for the same reason, but sometimes, it proves to be quite impossible to do so.

The story of RR, the Palace Maid continued even when we left the palace and walked back to the hanbok rental shop. Somehow she managed to travel through time and arrived at modern day, Seoul. The city she once lived in, was no longer recognizable. However, she gathered her courage and continued walking forward through this new world and towards the setting sun.

Thus, the story of RR, the Palace Maid was ended in open manner. If any one of you readers is a big Hollywood movie producer and is interested in turning this into a mega-block buster movie, please feel free to give me a holler.

Later that Evening

After returning her hanbok, Constant Companion RR and I sat down in a cafe for some light refreshment. One disgusting incident took place in the cafe. A woman, a tourist from a South-East Asia country (I will not say which one), was clipping her toe nails openly in the cafe. One leg on the chair, the woman went to town with her nail clipper, clipping away. Luckily we were seated far enough that we were safe from any flying wayward bits of toe nails.

We ended up in Myeong-dong where we had dinner and purchased a pair of wireless earphones. Then we returned back to our hotel and called it a night.

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I design fine jewellery for a living.